High-Rise Firefighting - Part 2

High-rise fires have proven to be very deadly. Fires that caused large losses of life include: March 26, 1911 - Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in New York City (146 dead). June 5, 1946 - Hotel LaSalle fire in Chicago (61 dead). Dec. 7...


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High-rise fires have proven to be very deadly. Fires that caused large losses of life include:

  • March 26, 1911 - Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in New York City (146 dead).
  • June 5, 1946 - Hotel LaSalle fire in Chicago (61 dead).
  • Dec. 7, 1946 - Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta (119 dead).
  • Dec. 25, 1971 - Tae Yon Kak Hotel fire in Seoul, Korea (163 dead).
  • Feb. 1, 1974 - Joelma Building (Crefisul Bank Building) in Sao Paulo, Brazil (179 dead).
  • June 21, 1980 - MGM Hotel fire in Las Vegas, NV, 85 dead.
  • Dec. 31, 1986 - Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico (96 dead).

In addition to civilian deaths, many firefighters have lost their lives while fighting high-rise fires. Recent incidents include:

  • Feb. 23, 1991 - One Meridian Plaza office building fire in Philadel-phia (three firefighters killed).
  • Feb. 5, 1992 - Indianapolis Athletic Club fire in Indianapolis (two firefighters killed).
  • Aug. 14, 1993 - Geneva Tower apartment house fire in San Francisco (one firefighter killed).
  • April 12, 1994 - Regis Towers apartment building fire in Memphis, TN (two firefighters killed).

High-rise buildings have become targets for terrorist activities as seen at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, where a truck bomb destroyed the high-rise building and inflicted 168 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

10_98_highrise.jpg
Photo by Joe Hoffman
Philadelphia firefighters respond to a reported fire in a high-rise housing project in the early-morning hours. Fire was visible on the top floor, with people exiting the building. Four engines, two ladder trucks, two battalion chiefs and Rescue 1 responded.

At the World Trade Center in New York City on Feb. 26, 1993, a car bomb killed six and injured over 1,000 people. The resulting smoke migration into the high-rise towers and the loss of electricity created a mammoth evacuation problem. Elevator extrications and emergency medical services were required throughout the building.

Defining A High-Rise Building

The definition of a high-rise building is one that is over 75 feet tall and constructed for human habitation; where there is a dependency on the building systems; in which part of the building is beyond the reach of the fire department's longest ladder; and that would have an unreasonable evacuation time.

High-rises have changed from heavy concrete buildings to lightweight core-constructed structures. The high-rises built in the first half of the 20th century contained large masses of masonry material. The second half of the century represented a drastic change. The building industry changed to lighter-weight core-constructed buildings. The steel supports are often protected by encapsulation in fire-rated drywall or sprayed-on cementatious mixtures.

Core Construction

The core area is the location through which the utilities, shaftways and elevators reach upward through the building. The core may be located in the center, front, rear or side of the building. A core-constructed building built today can weigh less than 10 pounds per square foot. Compare that to the Empire State Building in New York City, which was completed in 1931 and weighs over 24 pounds per square foot.

This reduction in weight is due to the changes in the material used in the building's construction. For example, metal studding and drywall have replaced plaster and concrete materials in many applications. Exterior walls in the past were constructed of marble and granite; today, they are often comprised of glass and other lightweight materials.

High-Rise Considerations

A high-rise fire is one of the most difficult types of assignments that confront a firefighter. So many problems are occurring simultaneously that it presents a tremendous challenge to even the most experienced fire officer. The basis for success will depend upon a number of factors, including organization, pre-planning, and applying experience and training to solve the many problems that undoubtedly will occur.

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